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Teaching dogs new tricks.

Steven Buzzard joined the West Virginia Division of Corrections as a correctional officer in 1993 after 20 years of service in the U.S. Army. "I've always enjoyed law enforcement and ended up just falling into corrections," he says. During his first year with the division, Buzzard worked at Huntsville Correctional Center, where he joined the escape squad, became a field training officer for his shift and became a certified defensive tactics instructor.

When a position was posted for a passive response narcotics detection canine handler, Buzzard applied and was accepted for the job. "I've always loved dogs, so this was a great opportunity for me," Buzzard says. In May 1994, he attended the Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) Canine Basic Handler's Course at the Maryland State Police Academy.

During the next two years, Buzzard and his partner, Buster, a 7-year-old black lab, traveled throughout the state conducting drug scans at all of the Division's institutions, parole offices and regional jails. Buzzard soon became a member of the Aladrue Task Force, the Division of Corrections Drug Task Force, and performed demonstrations for Drug Awareness Resistence Education (D.A.R.E.) programs and school assemblies.

Due to Buzzard's success in the division's fight against drugs and the demand for his services, two more CDS canine teams were added in 1996. It eventually became evident that even more teams were needed, and Buzzard was sent to a U.S. Customs Technical Trainers' Course to allow him to train and certify teams for the division. Currently, there are seven teams and Buzzard says he is hoping to add three more by the end of the year. He oversees the deployment of all dogs, which are located at four separate institutions in the state.

In 1998, Buzzard was promoted to lieutenant and the headquarters and training center for the canine program were moved from the Huntsville Correctional Center to the division's newest institution, St. Mary's Correctional Center.

Buzzard notes that, when choosing, he looks for dogs that are 1 to 2 years old. All prospective dogs are put through several tests. "We look for high-energy dogs that have a high fetch drive, mostly bird dogs, like labradors and golden retrievers," he says. They start by introducing the dogs to the types of odors they want them to find. The bulk of the training is done through reward and repetition. He says that his teams use towels as rewards for the dogs because they allow the handlers to interact with the dogs and play tug-of-war. "We throw a towel to see if the dog will fetch it and then we throw the towel under a vehicle to see if the dog will get it," says Buzzard, adding, "Then we throw it in a small room and see how the dog reacts to the floor and small confined spaces."

The dogs come primarily from private donations and pounds. "Buster came from a Maryland pound and would have been put down if I hadn't gotten him when I did," says Buzzard. "It's nice because I guess I saved his life." Buzzard points out that the dogs are primarily used to conduct scans of inmate visitors as they come into the institutions. They also are taken out with inmate work crews throughout the state.

Buzzard's biggest challenge is adapting to new situations. "There are always new areas we are finding that we can use them and just finding ways to do it is exciting," he says. "I love my job because I get to play with dogs all day."

Susan L. Clayton is senior editor of Corrections Today.
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:narcotics detection dog handler Steven Buzzard; Best in the Business
Author:Clayton, Susan L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:599
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